“Mmm… Wrapped like a present,” I heard Eric say beside me, pulling at the tie on my robe and touching me with a cold hand as I woke up with a start.
“Holy God! Eric! Go stand by the fire and warm up your hands!” I screeched and tried to scramble away, tugging at the robe to put it around me again.
“But you’re so very warm, dear one,” he purred moving closer. He was naked, and his whole body was freezing.
I was wide awake very suddenly, remembering that I was supposed to be upset about my predicament earlier. Sure, I can read minds and knew I hadn’t been in any danger, but I should have been given a little more information. I’d been a fool for not asking sooner.
“Eric, where are we? Are we in a hotel? You haven’t told me anything,” I said, which made him stop trying to put his cold hands on me.
He searched my eyes briefly before answering. “This castle belongs to my other child, Meg Moon. We’re meeting her tonight.” He sighed melodramatically. “We don’t have time to make love.” Did he pout?
“Eric, when were you going to fill me in on all this? I’ve been very good about doing exactly what you’ve asked of me, but you have to be more open with me. I know you try to tell me only what you think I need to know and keep other things from me mostly to keep me safe…”
“Yes, I do that,” he said, looking at me a little surprised.
“And I know you always tell me the truth, but can you understand this was a little confusing for me, not to know where I am? And be expected to take care of you and Pam too?” I asked, softening my tone. I’d learned that if I became bellicose (Word of the Day) he would shut down and not tell me anything.
Eric nodded. “You did great.” He lay back and knotted his fingers over his chest. He wasn’t all that excited anymore, so I knew he was about to tell me something important. I turned to my side and propped myself up on my elbow. He turned his face to me with a worried look.
“My child, Meg, she’s the Queen of Leon and Castile here in Spain,” he said and watched for my reaction. He didn’t know, or had forgotten, that I’d schooled myself to keep my reactions neutral no matter what because of my telepathy. I was surprised at this turn of events, but my first instinct was to hide my emotion, no matter what he could feel from me through our bond.
“I thought you said she hated or resented you turning her,” I said in a low voice. That was still bothering me. I had no doubt that any child of Eric’s could become a monarch in her own right. Pam was certainly a strong kick-ass vampire. Meg wouldn’t have been any different, one would think. But would she double cross Eric, still resentful for having turned her? It seemed like she had made the best of it.
“She did, she hated me and I thought she wouldn’t want me here. But I had to ask her to help me keep you safe, and she surprised me by inviting us to come here.”
I shook my head and closed my eyes. “Isn’t that like jumping from the pan to the fire? You kept me safe from one queen and now we’re in another queen’s compound.” When I opened my eyes again he was frowning.
“Meg is my child. She would not harm me in that way. She will keep you safe.” Eric moved to his side. “Did I not try this avenue before?”
“Not that I know of, Eric. I told you that you only give me the information you think I need and no more.”
He nodded, agreeing with me. I should have been recording this for the future. “I love you, Sookie. You have suffered enough for my sake and I owe you a safe life. This is as safe as I can make you. Nobody will dare come get you from here, not the Queen of Louisiana, and not the fairies.”
“How can you be so sure?” I asked, because he was sounding naïve to me.
“Meg is a powerful queen, more so than Sophie-Anne. Sophie-Anne knows better than to engage Meg, and probably wouldn’t want to waste her money to even attempt it. As for the fairies, they were run off from Spain during the time of the Reconquista,” he smiled. “They were the Moors of the supernatural world.”
“Are you remembering? Were you here?” I asked, because his smile was so obvious, and I was hit by a sudden case of curiosity.
“It was a free-for-all!” he swept his arm in a grand gesture. “There were so, so many fairies here,” he said with relish, “and the vampire king at that time declared an open war. I came as soon as I heard. That’s how I found Meg to begin with. She partook of her fair share of fairies, being a young bloodthirsty vampire.” Eric smiled some more, remembering. I felt a tiny pang of jealousy and had to remind myself of the sacrifice he’d made to keep ME safe, and also the Reconquista had started in the early 1400’s, six hundred years and change had passed.
Eric caressed my face, probably feeling the tiny bit of jealousy that I was trying to swat away. His eyes lost that mischievous look and softened, telling me with a look that he did truly love me very much. He kissed me tenderly, and it helped stamp down any remaining jealous feelings, igniting my lust.
He pulled away and made a disappointed face that I echoed. “Let’s get ready, dear one. Did you bring something nice to wear?”
And so we began our night. I took another quick shower for no reason whatsoever, and made sure my hair and makeup were flawless while Eric took his own shower. He dressed in a dark gray suit with a white shirt, no tie. I put on a black pantsuit, something left over from my working days, with a pink shirt and sensible pumps. I remembered the dress I’d worn to meet Queen Sophie-Anne at her compound and shrugged to myself. The pantsuit seemed more practical in this cold weather. Pam joined us, wearing a pretty gray tailored skirt and a twinset in baby blue. It matched her eyes.
“Sookie, you look delicious,” she said in her usual fangy way.
“You look very nice yourself,” I said to her while we waited for Eric to get ready. He was nervous and was stalling.
Eric called me over to braid his hair, and I noticed he couldn’t seem to keep still. I took twice as long to braid his long hair than it should have, and I had to reassure him that Pam and I would be there with him. Nervous Eric. For him to even show it, he really was a wreck inside.
“You weren’t this nervous when you saw me again,” Pam pointed out a little peeved.
“I’d seen you. I haven’t seen Meg in hundreds of years,” he said, once again moving his face and messing his braid. I took a deep breath. It took Zen-like patience, but I accomplished my task.
A knock on our door startled me, and only me. It was impossible to hear any footsteps coming from the hall, or even inside the bedrooms. The plush carpets and fabric on the walls were great sound insulators.
Pam opened the door, and we saw a tall vampire woman on the other side. She was dressed like Laura, in a tailored skirt and white shirt, and spoke in a low voice to Pam who closed the door after saying something back to her. “That’s the night housekeeper,” she said out loud for my benefit. “She’s going to escort us down to see Queen Margarita and was wondering if Sookie is allergic to any foods.”
I frowned and shook my head. Laura hadn’t asked me about allergies, but the vampire housekeeper had remembered to ask… maybe to show that vampires were thoughtful of their human guests’ needs? That had to be it. And…
“Margarita?” I asked to the room in general.
“That’s Meg’s given name,” Eric said, coming closer to me, finally ready to leave the room. “I called her Meg when I first turned her because my Spanish wasn’t that good yet.”
We joined the housekeeper outside and she bowed by turns to each of us. I nodded, mimicking Pam’s gestures. I figured I’d be safe that way.
“I am Juana, the housekeeper for the night. I will be sending someone to unpack your luggage while you meet with her majesty and dine,” the tall woman said and turned to lead us down the hall, but not the way I’d come in the morning.
I hadn’t been nervous until then. It was as if I hadn’t really understood where I was or who lived in the castle, until we were being led down the luxurious hall and down a flight of marble steps covered in a red carpet. The castle was silent, but a quick scan told me that we weren’t alone at all. I caught whispers of human thoughts, the humans themselves too far for me to actually read. I also felt the voids belonging to vampires. Eric reached for my hand and squeezed, probably feeling my own nerves. I didn’t want to add to his apprehension, but I was having a hard time calming down the butterflies in my stomach.
We reached a long hall lined with suits of armor, ancient tapestries, and paintings that looked as though they belonged to a museum. Everything was heartbreakingly beautiful. So much history… It brought Eric’s true age into better perspective in my mind. It was easy to pretend he was a regular man with fangs when we were in Shreveport. Short of antebellum plantations, nothing was older than turn of the twentieth century in my little corner of Louisiana. Eric had been around so much longer than I’d ever been able to fathom.
I had earned the love of an immortal.
The realization hit me as we passed a medieval painting that was prominently displayed and obviously meant more than all the other paintings. The plaque below it said it was a painting of Martin I of Aragon. We had paused before it while Juana opened a heavy wooden door across from it, and invited us to enter the next room without her.
I couldn’t think of Eric’s age anymore as he pulled me inside the ornate room. It was an office, as lavish in its décor as the rest of the castle. The walls were covered in silk as well, and here and there hung paintings, although these were more modern than the ones I’d seen out in the hall. The floor was covered in thick Persian rugs – that were probably really Persian – on top of dark wood. The furniture was all dark wood and deep reds. Even the woman sitting behind the imposing desk was dressed in red.
I was snapped out of my gawking when I saw Pam curtsey in my peripheral vision. I did my best and curtseyed as well, knowing I would have to ask Pam to give me a quick lesson if we were to live here. Eric bowed deeply beside me, and we all remained in our positions until we heard the woman’s voice say something in Spanish. As soon as Pam got up from her curtsey, so did I, resuming my gawking but this time of the woman in front of us.
She was standing behind the large desk, looking about as tall as Pam. Her hair was wavy and light brown, matching her large eyes. She looked healthy for a vampire. Like Pam, she had been turned at the peak of her beauty and must have come from a privileged background. I always said that Pam looked like Alice with fangs. This woman looked like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She smiled widely, and it looked so sincere that my nervous butterflies calmed a little.
“Eric!” she exclaimed and walked around the desk, opening her arms.
Eric moved forward with purpose and hugged her tight, lifting her in the air and kissing her cheeks. A new wave of jealousy hit me broadside, making Pam put a hand on my shoulder. What did she think I was going to do? This wasn’t Jerry Springer, and I understood well the maker/child relationship.
Another vampire entered the room from a door near the desk. He was a handsome dark blond, dressed in an expensive suit, and was probably the Queen’s right-hand man, because that’s exactly where he stopped and stood: at the right hand side of the chair that the Queen was no longer occupying.
Eric’s quick Spanish was cut off by his own child, tsk’ing him into speaking English. “We have English-speaking guests, Eric. Manners!” she said and shot me and Pam a smile. Her accent was just like Laura’s and Juana’s, pronouncing the S sound almost like an SH, and making the H sound come thick from her throat. I found that I was beginning to enjoy it.
He turned and looked at me with a wide smile, letting go of the Queen and walking swiftly back to put himself between Pam and me. He hugged us tight against him, claiming us as his as well. “Meg, I’d like you to meet Pamela Ravenscroft, my child, and Sookie Stackhouse, my…” He drifted and I tensed. I looked up to see him looking down at me. There was no doubt in his eyes, no cloud on his face. He was truly, deliriously happy to be there with us. “My fiancée,” he finished in a soft voice, not letting go of my gaze.
I could feel my eyes and mouth opening wide. Was he actually asking me? A quick flick of his eyebrows, as if he was waiting for an answer, made me start nodding.
“Eric, you just scared the poor girl,” Meg giggled, standing closer to us, I couldn’t tell. I was still looking at Eric, who was now satisfied with my dumbfounded answer. “Sookie,” she said and took my hand. I transferred my eyes to her with difficulty. She was looking at me with a curious expression. “That is a really pretty name,” she said and shook my hand.
“Pleasure to meet you, your highness,” I said like an automaton. I was definitely in shock.
Meg moved to Pam and nodded vampire-style. “Very nice to meet you, sister.”
“My pleasure, your highness,” Pam said and did a very quick curtsey.
“My home is your home as well, for as long as you would like to remain. Eric, I believe your Corvette arrived today,” she giggled. “Be careful how you drive through my streets,” she wiggled a finger at him, and he gave her a look of mock shock.
“I would give you the tour myself, but I’m so busy tonight,” Meg said looking over her shoulder. The man nodded at her statement and came closer to her when she waved him forward. “This is my second, Carlos Garrido. Carlos, this is my maker Eric Northman, his child Pamela Ravenscroft, and his fiancée Sookie Stackhouse.”
Carlos nodded at each of us, not saying much but smiling nonetheless.
Meg continued. “Juana will show you where we dine, or she can recommend several clubs and pubs nearby. I have cleared some room in my schedule tomorrow because I would like to spend some time with all of you,” she said, sweeping her hands to indicate all three of us. “We have a lot to talk about.”
“Indeed, and we thank you,” Eric said.
Meg waved him off, like his thanks were not necessary. After another bout of curtseys and bows, we left the Queen’s office and joined Juana once again. She bid us to follow her down another flight of stairs, showing us several rooms like the library, a sitting room, the human’s dining room – which looked like a café to me – and she finally stopped at the vampire’s dining room. I didn’t even want to know.
Eric felt my hesitance and bent to speak in my ear. “Nothing happens here. The humans are willing and they go to private rooms set aside for feedings.”
I nodded uncomfortable, imagining the same would be true of any large vampire compound.
We left Pam to her own devices and returned to our room. Juana had arranged for my dinner to be brought up, even if I wasn’t particularly hungry.
As soon as we were inside the bedroom I started pacing, taking off my jacket, becoming way too hot. I felt Eric’s eyes on me from where he was sitting. I turned to him, but the question I wanted to ask him didn’t quite reach my lips, so I began pacing again. The gist of my thoughts went something like this: did he really just ask me to marry him? Did I really just say yes? Is it really what I want? Does that mean he’s turning me soon? Are we getting married while I’m still a human? Do I want to be a vampire? Why am I so unsure? Are we safe here? Are we moving out of the castle soon? Where would we live? What kind of wedding was he talking about?
“Sookie,” Eric called me with a warning in his voice. “Care to share what’s going through your mind so I can help?”
I took a deep breath, unable to turn to look at him. I did stop walking and was now facing the window. Whoever had unpacked our things had opened the shutters and I could see all of Segovia beautifully lit up down below the castle. Most of the humans would be having dinner and winding down for the night, and I was wide awake. I’d already said goodbye to the sun.
“Do you want to marry me?” I asked, snatching the first question that floated through my mind at that particular moment.
“I believe that is the question I should have asked you,” he said in a low voice behind me.
I turned, unable to meet his eyes, focusing on the tiny bit of blond hair that peeked from the top of the shirt he was wearing. I put my hands on his chest and felt it move up and down. He was breathing. He tended to do that whenever I was near him.
He took both my hands in one of his, and lifted my face with his free one, caressing my cheek with his fingertips. His eyes were just as bright and free from doubt as they had been earlier. The fact that he wanted to ask me first, instead of manipulating me into marrying him, told me that he cared much more than I’d ever imagined.
“Don’t answer yet,” he said and smiled seeing my sudden confusion. “The night is young. Have dinner and then we’ll go exploring. What do you say?”
I smiled. “Can you go inside a church?”
He chuckled. “Yes, of course.”
I was riveted to a painting called The Tree of Life. As paintings go it wasn’t beautiful, but it was interesting: life and death, duking it out under a tree. That was my interpretation, anyway.
The cathedral was dark, only lit here and there with tall sconces. It was meant to be visited during the day, when the light of the sun would shine through the tall stained glass windows. I’d already made up my mind that I had to come and see it during the day. The opulence of the chapels, which I could only see through iron bars, was above and beyond what I’d seen in the castle. There were all manner of things gilded in gold, iron bars topped with golden spikes, settees with red velvet cushions, sculptures, paintings. In the dark there wasn’t enough light for me to see where the vaulted ceiling ended. Eric guessed it was about a hundred feet at its tallest.
“They wanted to make the pious feel insignificant inside the house of God,” Eric said from his spot. He was staring up into one of the massive stained glass windows, as riveted by it as I was by the painting. I could barely see the picture formed by the glass, but Eric had no such trouble.
“Have you been here before?” I asked, moving closer. We were the only two people inside. There was a special entrance just for vampires, and we had gone in through it. I guessed they thought they could make vampires be pious again… or for the first time.
“No. When I was in Segovia it was about a hundred years before they started building this church. I’ve seen others, and by the time I was turned I’d already heard of Jesus and the promise of everlasting life.” Eric turned to me and frowned in a thoughtful way. “You’re a believer, Sookie, and I respect that. But I’m still waiting for Ragnarok.”
“How do you know it hasn’t happened?” I asked, thinking of all the wars and all the sorrow. All the pain.
“A Valkyrie hasn’t taken me yet,” he said with a smirk.
We had spent nearly an hour inside the church when we decided to see the rest of the town and start making our way back up to the Alcázar. I clung to Eric’s arm, taking in the sights of the old city.
“The city smells better than I remember,” Eric observed, making me giggle.
“I expect it does,” I said, letting him tuck me under his arm. I circled his waist, hugging him as we walked, which was awkward but felt so right.
“And food is more readily available,” he said in a low growl.
Before I knew what was happening I found myself pinned between a wall and him inside a dark alley. His face was inches from my face, but his whole body was flush with mine. His cold hands held my face lovingly while he bridged the gap and kissed me, slowly, tasting my mouth with slow sweeps of his tongue. I melted into him, throwing my arms around his neck and knotting my fingers in his hair.
I felt one of his legs slowly make its way between mine, his hands moving down to my neck, then down over my wool jacket, slowly undoing buttons to reveal the sweater I had changed into. His hips moved against me and I gasped into our kiss. I wondered for one brief moment what his intentions were, but my brain quickly disengaged. I was feeling both his lust and mine very clearly, and I wanted more. If he was going to take me, I was going to let him.
One of Eric’s cold hands made it up my sweater to cup my breast, at the same time that he ran his thumb over my nipple. A rumble of excitement rippled through him and my skin reacted by becoming warmer. Suddenly his cold hands were perfect. I pulled him tighter against me, gasping for air but refusing to let go of his mouth.
Suddenly he stopped his kiss to look down at the entrance of the alley. His absence made me whimper, but then I caught on. We weren’t alone.
There were two vampires looking at us or, rather, at me, with unmistakable hunger and lust. Eric took a defensive stance in front of me, and I wished to become part of the wall. Their whole exchange was in Spanish, but later I learned they’d asked Eric to share which, of course, he wasn’t about to do. Eric doesn’t share.
From there the situation deteriorated. The vampires didn’t belong to the Queen, they were merely visiting, or they would have known who Eric was. One of them, a tall male about Eric’s size, decided it would be a good night to die, and moved closer. I was sure that my speeding heart was not making the situation any better, with Eric feeling my fear, and the other vampires smelling it. Or smelling my blood.
And that was it, wasn’t it? All this time, it was my blood that called to all these vampires like a beacon. My grandmother had dealt me a crooked hand when she allowed Fintan to do a favor for her. “Thank you” had sealed the deal. A simple phrase had cemented my fate. My fairy blood was what the vampires craved. And one vampire in particular, was willing to kill for it. Or worse: die for it.
My fear worsened for worrying about Eric. All I could see was his back, but the growls coming from deep inside his chest were feral and wild. He was a predator, and he was protecting his prey. Instead of taking me in his arms and flying us to the safety of the castle, he wanted to fight. He needed to fight. Fight for me or fight for himself, I wasn’t sure.
The other vampire was just as ready for a fight as Eric, and all I could do was watch in slow motion as he charged Eric and lost his head, all in less than a second. Young and stupid, that’s what he had been. The friend began to run away, but Eric was older, therefore faster, and made the friend lose his head as well. That one was just for spite.
I stood where I was, trying to wrap my head around all of it. Why had he done that? Why couldn’t he just explain to them that there was no way for them to win? It had been so easy for him to simply end them. It would have been just as easy for him to simply take us away, and he would have known that.
Thick, hot tears started streaming down my face at the realization that nothing had changed, not really. Eric was still bloodthirsty and violent, and I was still a pawn, an excuse for him to unleash his aggressive behavior.
Pam appeared at the mouth of the alley with two of the castle guards trailing behind her. I ran to her because I didn’t want to deal with Eric right that second. At the time, I didn’t know why he’d become so violent and lashed out as he had. To me it had simply been some macho bull taken to the nth degree with no rhyme or reason.
She put her arm around me and we walked back to the castle, feeling more than hearing Eric and the guards walking behind us. Pam deposited me in our room, but I was still too shocked, or mad, or disappointed… Honestly I have no idea what I was feeling that night. I couldn’t bring myself to look at Eric. He took a shower and I remained at the window, looking over the city, feeling like I was mired in another mess.
It took me a while to realize that Eric was waiting for me, sitting on the bed we were supposed to share. All I could think of was the last time I’d seen him in a fight, when I had killed Victor Madden to save him. A death was a death. I had killed too. God didn’t judge the size of the sin. Hadn’t I told myself that not too long ago?
I still could not reconcile what he’d done with the reason. To me there was no good enough reason.
There was one difference, though. The night I’d killed Victor, I’d been happy that my bond with Eric had been severed so that I couldn’t feel his jubilation at killing an enemy. That wasn’t the case now. I’d been feeling everything he had felt. Eric wasn’t feeling pride at his accomplishment. At no time was he in any way happy or relieved or had any positive feeling about what he’d done in that alley. He was mad and upset when those vampires found us. He was still mad now as he sat waiting for me to turn and look at him. His anger was so deep that it was tainting my own feelings.
“They found us,” he said in a grave voice from the bed. I refused to turn around, but he continued. “At first they pretended to simply want you, but then they mentioned Sophie-Anne. She needs you in Louisiana to finalize her prenuptial agreement. You are part of it.”
My heart skipped a beat and I felt a sob catch in my throat. A new realization was making my whole world topsy-turvy. “Are we not safe anywhere?” My voice came out low and full of despair, but with Eric’s explanation it finally all made sense.
“I will find a way,” Eric said in my ear. “Those two won’t be able to return and give Sophie-Anne the news of your whereabouts, but she will send others. It’s only a matter of time until she sends one stronger than me.”
“And then I’ll lose you,” I said turning to him and burying my face into his bare chest.